“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” – Dr Martin Luther King, Jr
When I hear this quote from civil rights leader, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, I think about love from a different perspective. I’m not talking romantic love here or even familial love. I’m talking about unconditional love for all people, regardless of whether they are like us or different. Regardless of whether we agree with their choices or we don’t.
When thinking of love, we often see its dichotomy as hate, but in fact, I would say fear sits opposing love. When we act, we do so lovingly or fearfully. How often is it that we condemn a criminal to his or her sentence out of love for them? We usually do so from a fearful place that if we don’t remove them from society, they might hurt us or our loved ones. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system is set up in a pretty binary way, good or bad, guilty or not guilty with pretty standard sentencing rules (which may be argued have biases toward preserving the dominant cultural norms).
What if we reframe this idea and think about what is best for them and their best interest? By best interest, I certainly don’t mean letting them off the hook. It is important that our loving choices are loving for ourselves and loved ones as well. Removing consequences from actions that hurt other people is in no way in anyone’s best interest, including the perpetrator. Every decision that is made can be made out of love or fear. We can choose to lock somebody up out of love for them. We would do this to give them a chance to regroup their life, learn new coping skills, and become the person they were meant to be. What is the goal of our families, communities, society? Is it too empower all people to live creative, meaningful, positive lives? I think so. Punishing people out of fear can’t create that, because our goal is just to remove them from society, but adding structure and purpose to lives that are drastically out of alignment can…if we choose our actions out of love and put the supports in place to do that rather than to create outsiders with fewer and fewer pathways to leading a meaningful life. I would hope that our societies have the goal to not need systems in place that restrict some people’s lives. While it may be a current reality, it brings up the question of fairness. I can hear angry people (out of fear) arguing that it isn’t fair that we try to educate and improve the lives of those who have hurt others when “they get nothing.” My question is whether they need that to live a constructive life. Fairness isn’t sameness, it is giving people what they need.
A world in which we act out of love as Dr King speaks of is the world I wish to live in.
How about you? Love or fear?